Covid risk on flights ‘less than 0.1%’ when passengers test negative in advance

The risk of exposure to Covid-19 when flying after all passengers test negative 72 hours in advance is less than 0.1%, a study of transatlantic service by Delta Air Lines has shown.

The research examined data from almost 10,000 passengers on Delta’s Covid-tested flights between New York-JFK and Atlanta to Rome.

It found that a single Covid-19 molecular test performed within 72 hours of departure could decrease the rate of people actively infected on board to a level that is significantly below active community infection rates.

For example, when the average community infection rate was at 1.1% – or about one in 100 people – infection rates on Covid tested flights were 0.05% or five in 10,000 passengers.

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The US carrier’s chief health officer Dr Henry Ting said: “When you couple the extremely low infection rate on board a Covid-19-tested flight with the layers of protection on board including mandatory masking and hospital-grade air filtration, the risk of transmission is less than one in one million between the United States and the United Kingdom, for example.

“These numbers will improve further as vaccination rates increase and new cases decrease worldwide.”

He added: “We are going to live with Covid-19 variants for some time. This real-world data – not simulation models – is what governments around the world can use as a blueprint for requiring vaccinations and testing instead of quarantines to re-open borders for international travel.

“Air travel risk varies depending on case rates and vaccination rates at the origin and destination, masking and other factors.

“But the data collected from this study show that the routine use of a single molecular test within 72 hours before international travel for unvaccinated individuals significantly mitigates the risk of Covid-19 exposure and transmission during airline travel.”

The study started in December 2020 with the transatlantic Covid-19 testing programme that enabled quarantine-free entry from the US into Italy.

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